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This year marks our third straight year of near-continuous world travel, and some of the most common questions we get when we come by home to see friends and family are “don’t you ever get tired of travelling?” or “don’t you miss having roots?” or my favorite “don’t you miss having stability?”
And when we get those questions, the answer is always no, no, and a thousand times no.
What people back home still fail to understand is that this whole travelling thing isn’t something we’re “getting out of our system.” This is our life now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
Stability Isn’t About Location
First of all, when people talk about the merits of “stability,” they often talk about the comfort that certainty brings, the peace-of-mind that comes from waking up in your own bed every morning, and all that jazz. And I get that people need that, I really do.
In fact, I’d argue that stability is even more important for perpetual travelers like us. Throughout our travels, we’ve met a lot of back-packers, and a lot of people doing gap-years. Many of them do the travel thing for a few months, up to a year even, but in the end most of them eventually choose to settle back down after it’s all over.
And for most people it’s for purely financial reasons, but for others, they eventually do miss that stability, that certainty of being in one place brings.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that it’s not a particular place people usually miss, but the people associated with that place.
Humans are innately social creatures, and crave social interaction. But not all social interaction is created equal. The social interaction you get partying with a bunch of people in a bar is not the same as a deep, meaningful friendship that you can spill your heart out to, which is not the same as a romantic relationship you develop with someone.
And unfortunately, while traveling the world has many awesome positives, one of the biggest negatives is the difficulty in developing those deeper, meaningful social ties. In the classic perpetual-traveler documentary A Map For Saturday (so titled because when you travel every day feels like Saturday), the narrator describes the act of travelling as constantly making new best friends and then saying goodbye to them a week later. People get together and party all the time, but travelers are, by definition, always headed somewhere else. Everyone promises to stay in touch after they part ways, but nobody ever does. And that constant discombobulating feeling of making and losing friends is a big reason why people crave stability.
That’s why it’s so important for us to create that stability, and create those deeper, meaningful relationships that last beyond the current city we’re currently in. We Skype with JL Collins pretty much every month. We set up remote board game nights with our good friends Alan and Katie from Pop-Up Business School. And we’re constantly organizing meet-ups or get-togethers with our Chautauqua peeps whenever we’re in the same city as they are.
And above all, FC and I have each other. I wouldn’t enjoy doing this alone, and I can’t imagine how hard it would be trying to date as a single traveler. I mean, dating is hard enough as it is, but add in the fact that you’re changing cities every couple weeks and it becomes almost impossible to create a stable long-term romantic relationship with anyone. The reason why it works for us is that we’re traveling together.
Travel Has to Be Purposeful
And to address those people who think traveling is self-indulgent, I’d respond by saying that yes, travel can be self-indulgent, if you do it wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. Taking a 2-week vacation to sip Mai-Tai’s on the beach can be a very worthwhile endeavor. But can you imagine doing that for 4 weeks? How about 3 months? How about a year?
And while some of you reading this at work might think “Heck yes! Bring it on! That sounds awesome!” The reality is actually quite different.
It’s the same problem people face when they early-retire. What do you do with your day? You might spend 6 months sitting around, eating bon-bons and playing video games, but after that, people get bored.
Humans aren’t meant to just sit around and mindlessly consume. Shoveling cake into your mouth may be fun in the short term, but it’s not satisfying in the end.
Same with long-term travel. If you just travel as a tourist, bouncing from church to church, attraction to attraction, take your pictures and then leave, then you eventually get bored of it. The next city and the next attraction becomes shallow. Hollow. In Europe, there’s actually a phrase that over-exhausted bus-tourists use: ABC. Which means “Another Bloody Church.”
To make travel a lifestyle, and not just an escape, it can’t just be consumptive. It has to be productive.
And for that, we actually have you, the blog readers, to thank for that.
Ever since we started doing the Travel Series posts on this blog, and have gotten all the appreciative comments from our would-be traveling readers, that’s been the reason we’ve been motivated to continue travelling.
We don’t go into cities as pure tourists just to see the sights anymore. We’re more like investigative travel reporters.
Every city we visit, we go in trying to figure out its story. We try to learn what makes the city unique, what makes it worth visiting. And we meticulously document how much it costs to live there.
So what started as a way to conveniently turn our vacation pictures in blog posts has turned into almost a running catalog of world cities to retire to. Each place we visit we try to view through the lens of an early retiree. Should you visit? Should you stay? And how much would it affect your 4% number?
That’s why we keep travelling.
Stability Is Boring. Change Is Inspiring.
But above all else, stability, as in the traditional “stay in one place” definition of stability, is just so boring. I mean, that’s the nature of stability, right? That each day is the same as the last?
And maybe some people like it, but definitely not us.
We spent 9 years as engineers, working the 9 to 5, trapped in our cubicles, and going to boring meetings day in and day out. We’ve tried stability, and it sucks.
Over the last year of work, FC took maybe two pictures on her phone. One of a bacon-latte, and another of a beaver tail we got in Ottawa. Those were the only two memories that were worthy of recording. The rest of the year was just a blur.
But in the first year of retirement, we took so many pictures we ran out of memory on our phone.
The strangest thing about travelling is how life-extending it is. Honestly, the last 3 years of travel has made time feel so stretched out it feel like we’ve been doing it for decades. While the last decade of work feel like it flew by without anything exciting happening.
The human brain is designed to filter out same-ness and detect change. It’s a primal survival instinct that we developed as cavemen that allowed us to notice “hey, these pebbles are in a different place than they were yesterday,” and therefore avert death-by-panther or whatever cavemen worried about back then.
Our brain shuts down when things are too similar. We don’t notice anything, so we don’t retain anything. That’s why a decade of doing the same thing over and over again can seem to fly by. We don’t remember anything because there was no new information to retain.
But change turns us on, it wakes us up, our memories start to fill, and our neurons start to fire again. We thought we were supposed to be retiring from out full time job. But since we’ve retired and started traveling, we’re busier than ever! We’ve got a blog, we’re writing a book, we’ve taken part in a documentary, and we’ve written an app!
All this required inspiration, and connections, and motivation, and somehow the act of travelling the world allowed us to find them.
Rather than being self-indulgent, or selfish, we’ve found world travel has given us a new career, new friends, and a new reason to get up every day and be the best damned people we can be.
So no, we won’t be settling down anytime soon. Even if we eventually get a home base, travel will always be part of our lives.
What do you think? Are you a travel-addict? Do you have a home base?
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